13 May 1619

Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt is executed in The Hague after being convicted of treason.

Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was a prominent Dutch statesman and diplomat who played a significant role in the Dutch struggle for independence from Spanish rule during the 16th and 17th centuries. He served as the Grand Pensionary of Holland, the highest political office in the Dutch Republic, from 1586 until his downfall in 1619.

Van Oldenbarnevelt’s conviction for treason was a result of political and religious conflicts within the Dutch Republic. During his time in office, he had a close working relationship with the Dutch military leader, Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange. However, differences in political ideology and religious beliefs eventually led to a bitter rivalry between the two.

One of the main sources of conflict between van Oldenbarnevelt and Prince Maurice was their differing approaches to dealing with the Spanish Habsburgs. Van Oldenbarnevelt advocated for a diplomatic and negotiated settlement with Spain, while Prince Maurice favored a more aggressive military strategy. These differences were further exacerbated by religious tensions between the Calvinists and the more moderate religious factions within the Dutch Republic.

In 1618, a series of events unfolded that eventually led to van Oldenbarnevelt’s downfall. A synod, known as the Synod of Dort, was convened to resolve religious disputes within the Dutch Reformed Church. Van Oldenbarnevelt, along with other moderate politicians, supported a policy of religious tolerance and sought to prevent the domination of the Calvinist church.

The Synod of Dort, dominated by Calvinist representatives, declared van Oldenbarnevelt and his supporters to be heretics and enemies of the state. Taking advantage of the situation, Prince Maurice orchestrated a political coup, arresting van Oldenbarnevelt and his allies and charging them with treason.

Van Oldenbarnevelt’s trial was highly contentious and politically motivated. He was accused of conspiring against the state, supporting Spain, and undermining the authority of Prince Maurice. Despite mounting a spirited defense, van Oldenbarnevelt was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

On May 13, 1619, van Oldenbarnevelt was executed by beheading in The Hague. His death was met with shock and outrage by many within the Dutch Republic and marked a turning point in the country’s political landscape. The execution of van Oldenbarnevelt highlighted the growing power of Prince Maurice and the triumph of Calvinism over religious tolerance in the Dutch Republic.

However, it is worth noting that van Oldenbarnevelt’s reputation and legacy have undergone significant reassessment over time. Many historians now view him as a skilled and pragmatic statesman who played a crucial role in the early years of Dutch independence. His conviction for treason is often seen as a product of political rivalries and religious conflicts rather than a true reflection of his actions.